Bookstore Blog Tour #6: The Story Shop

The Story Shop Monroe, GA

I have heard of and followed The Story Shop for some time, and I have wanted to visit for years! Located in the heart of Monroe, GA (about an hour and a half from where I live), this dedicated kidlit wonderland did not disappoint! The eyecatching window displays are beautiful and inviting as you walk in the doors. But this door is one of the main attractions…

As you enter, taking in all of the colorful book shelves and seasonal displays, your eye is naturally drawn to this huge wardrobe directly across from the front doors. Yes! It is! THE wardrobe from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. It is HUGE and completely impossible to ignore. My kids came with me on this visit because we had just finished the book for our family-read-aloud and I promised them I would take them to The Story Shop after we completed it. Of course we opened it…

And it was magical! Fur coats hung on either side and the back opened up into a dreamy wonderland with snow like lights hanging from the ceiling, a plush red rug to sit and hear a story, and a green velvet chair for the storyteller. We were in luck to have arrived just before storytime and my kids and their cousins were excited to hear 3 picture books read by a very expressive employee. I snuck out to snap some more pictures of this bookish heaven.

The creativity behind this reading wonderland is simply amazing! There are themed book nooks around every corner, a hobbit hole, a reading teepee, Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard for the little ones (complete with A Very Hungry Caterpillar chair), a hanging swing, and even a yellow brick road to follow through the store! And then I saw the party room…

How beautiful is that? They were setting up for a 6 year-old birthday party and I suddenly came down with birthday party envy. This room is perfect!! It’s no wonder they offer photo shoots at The Story Shop because the creative design is beyond belief. You really need to come experience it for yourself.

Of course I had to take advantage of a little product placement and get this picture of my daughter reading Taste Your Words to my adorable niece and nephew!

Ok. Back to the bookstore…

My 4th and 5th grader felt right at home in this curated section of middle grade and young adult books. There was a potions wall and comfy chair with a platform 9 3/4 pillow. The color palette of this room was dark and cozy. And my child, who should not be named (but was the best behaved) scored a book of his or her own before we left. 🙂

Permission to photograph the adorable blonde children was given by this beautiful blonde…my sister Amy. 🙂

I was beyond impressed with imagination and joy of The Story Shop (not to mention the helpful and happy employees!) Every crafted nook and character theme was full of well-intentioned sparks of wonder. They even had a huge book opened to The End at the literal end of the hallway!

My visit to The Story Shop was even better than I imagined, and I hope I get to come back through the wardrobe REAL soon as a guest author!

If you haven’t visited The Story Shop, don’t wait as long as I did! Road trip it out to Monroe and experience the magic for yourself. And go ahead and buy a book or two for your best behaved children.

TASTE YOUR WORDS available April 7, 2020!

Taste vs. Talent

Drawing Ovals

When my son was in pre-k he came home from school excited to show me what they had been working on that day in class. He grabbed a pencil and a sheet of copy paper, “I can draw a circle mommy!” “You can?” I asked excitedly. “Let me see!” He held the pencil his tiny right hand and made the first attempt. He was clearly disappointed in the outcome. “Let me try again” he said. Swoosh went the marker. He was less than impressed. He started to panic and quickly banged out three gray oblong marks in a row. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. He studied the paper and then announced, “This pencil only draws ovals!”

I felt the exact same way when I started writing children’s books. I had great taste in children’s literature. (But I would soon discover that just because you can recognize a good book, doesn’t mean you can write one.) My kids and I would get canvas bags full of books every week and devour them. Good picture books seem effortless and easy to read. How hard could it be to write one? So I tried. But my attempts at creating a well-rounded circle of a picture book fell flat. My pencil would only draw ovals. But because I don’t give up on hard things (but I only have at most, two measly attempts in me when it comes to opening a pickle jar), I kept at it. I kept writing and reading and I even joined a kidlit writing critique group. I studied and learned and before long my ovals started expanding their egg shape. Somewhere along the line, and after many edits, I must have gotten pretty close to a circle because my story was noticed and in 2020 I will have two picture books published.

Anything worth doing takes time and effort. Lines may be imperfect and squiggly, but eventually with work and advice from those in the place you aspire to be, they will smooth out and come full circle. But first draw a bunch of ovals!

Critique Group Talk with Shanda McCloskey

“Life is pain, highness. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.
Wesley (The Princess Bride)

Modifying this quote to fit her writing experience, author-illustrator Shanda McCloskey says,

“Writing is pain. Anyone who tells you differently is self-published.”

“I kid! I kid!” Shanda says, “The point is, for me, writing is long-suffering, worthy work that you hope ends in satisfaction and joy … eventually.”

 

Me: Shanda, What is the writing life like for you?

“Writing to be published (traditionally) is grueling. Honestly, I’m not very good at it, but trying satisfies me within. So I do it. To live. To feel challenged. To be me. But it’s too much to bear alone. You’d go nuts from all the ups and downs and starting overs. I almost have!”

Me: I feel so lucky to be in the same critique group with you! What does our Trail Mix group mean to you?

“I have a writing family- a sisterhood actually. Nine women, including myself, that meet once a month in a safe place to lay the work of our hearts on the table, to speak up, to speak truth, to guide and be guided. It’s one of the most beautiful friendships I’ve ever experienced in my 30 something years. We have a bond weaved of joys, tragedies, triumphs, failures, hopes, fears, dreams, laughter, changes, tears, waiting, strengths, weaknesses, and the acceptance of hard truths. We’ve done life and stories together for almost 10 years!”

Our Trail Mix Critique Group

Me: What would you say to an aspiring writer who feels alone on the journey?

I’m sure there are plenty of writers out there who can navigate their minds and lives alone with ease. But I cant. (Not very well anyway.) But I’m gonna be okay. I’ve got my “Trail Mix” critique group sisters. I’m so lucky!

I’m so proud of you Shanda! Of all that you have accomplished of course, but mostly that I get to call you friend and be on this amazing kid lit journey with you! Click here to purchase Shanda’s incredible debut picture book Doll-E 1.0 and be on the lookout for another title by Shanda next year!

Bookstore Blog Tour #5: Avid Bookshops

Our next stop on the bookstore blog tour brought us to Athens, Georgia, the home of The University of Georgia. If you’ve never been to Athens- it is a quaint little town that bleeds red and black, and Bulldogs comprise the bulk of the décor. I was a little nervous that they would sniff me out being that I graduated from their rival school- Georgia Tech, but this Yellow Jacket stayed undercover.

We were there to visit Avid Bookshop, a neighborhood store open since 2011. Since their inception they have made quite an impact in the bookish world, even named one of the top 5 bookshops in the U.S. by Publisher’s Weekly in 2017. Recently they opened a sister store by the same name in the Five Points in the community. So of course we had to visit both!!

The original store is located in a historic building between two streets with entrances at both ends of the store. The beautiful doors and large windows gave you plenty of book browsing natural light. I loved how inviting the space was just inside the “front” doors. Little gift ideas and seasonal displays to welcome you.

I also noticed (and personally love) how well organized every section of the store was, by genre and interest. Each chalkboard sign made it easy to find exactly what you were looking for. If you look closely you will notice the book lights hanging from the ceiling. These and the calming blue sky and cloud walls added a fantastical touch to the overall personality of the store.

We were greeted by a friendly and knowledgable staff person, Elizabeth, who told us about the store, informed us of their sister store not far away and gave us an excellent lunch spot suggestion. (GRIT) We learned of their book club program where they will actually send you a book every month. Very cool. Near the register I noticed something that looked a bit out of place. A bathroom door covered with sharpie graffiti.

Apparently this is where authors can leave their mark, signing the door inside and out whenever they visit. I thought this was an awesome idea and even spotted this drawing by Loren Long illustrator of the new LOVE book by Matt de la Pena. To be honest, I didn’t actually sign the door since my book isn’t actually out yet, BUT you can be sure I will be back later in the year! My book buddy Steen has two books in her trilogy available now and she DID sign the door. You can buy her awesome books here: The Door Keeper 

Of course you know that what I really interested in seeing when I visit a bookstore is the clever children’s book section. And Avid bookshop did not disappoint with this adorable hot air balloon reading nook! I just had to hop and take a ride! The collage pictures on the inside of the woven basket and the oversized pillows made this the perfect spot for a kid (or me) to curl up with a good picture book. The children’s books were also neatly and colorfully organized. This made me even more excited to see their sister shop.

Look how beautiful this store is! This location definitely had a different vibe from the other one- a bit newer and shinier if you will. Another great location in the Five Points community with plenty of foot traffic. I loved the welcoming chalkboard tent sign with a list of “Books that Have Changed the World” The store was beautifully laid out and the staff was once again very friendly as they made a point to say hello and ask us if we needed help. We needed help for sure because we wanted EVERYTHING in the store!

This time I went straight back to the children’s section and found another fun mode of book transportation…a boat! There were waves painted on the wall, blue lighted stars and moons inside the boat and red velvet pillows to sit on. A kid’s dream! Way to knock it out of the park AGAIN Avid for little readers. Very imaginative! Funny though-being a college town I never actually saw a child during our visit. 😉

Once again, I adored all of the gift ideas including their “I am an Avid Reader” t-shirts and bags. I would say our visit to Avid Bookshops in Athens, Georgia was a huge success! If you are ever in Athens don’t miss the opportunity to stop in BOTH stores and book browse to your hearts content.

Until our next bookish adventure!

-Bonnie

Birds, Hope and Fern Shaming

The thing about spring in Georgia is that there isn’t one.

It’s cold one day, a little warm tease and then BAM. Hot. So a few weeks ago when we had a blip of a warm day I immediately drove to Home Depot to get some ferns. You see, I have been eagerly awaiting the spring, when the earth wakes up and shows off. Last spring we had the amazing experience of witnessing two different birds make a nest in our front porch ferns and it was incredible. Well, one of them was incredible and one of them was incredibly sad. You can read about last year’s nests here.

So when I heard the little birdies chirping on the this wanna-be-spring day I just knew they looking for a place to make their nests. I joyously parked near the garden area of Home Depot noting how unpopulated it was at the time. I found a bored looking older lady at the outside cash register warming her legs with a space heater. She looked a little surprised to have a customer but I went ahead and asked, “Do you have any ferns?”

She tilted her head affectionately and pressed her lips together prepping me for her response, “Honey, it’s too early.” I hung my head defeated (and embarrassed) “What do you mean it’s too early?! I said in my head. “I heard the birdies this morning! They need to make a nest and so I need to get them a fern AND THERE IS SPRING IN MY HEART!!!”

But I just choked out, “Oh. Ok. Well, when will you have them?” She told me they would have them in a couple of weeks, BUT I should still really wait until mid-April just in case we have another cold snap. I reluctantly thanked her, turned towards the parking lot and imagined her shaking her head slow and watching me walk away, “Poor girl doesn’t know the first things about plants.” Is probably exactly what she said.

So I went home and for the next week I listened to the pleading of the birds. I filled up my bird feeders and assured them that I would provide some more than adequate lodging very soon. I told the kids that we would have a birds nest this year and my husband reminded me of the sadness of last spring- when my middle daughter and I buried one of the nests full of baby birds. The momma was found not far from the nest on the ground-some animal had intercepted her before she made it home.

Yes it was sad, but I think it was this exact sadness that made me more hopeful than ever that this spring would be full of joy and life and baby birds. In fact, just as depicted in my favorite Pixar movie Inside Out, sometimes sadness is the avenue by which you arrive at life’s greatest joys. As exciting as it was to watch the first nest fill up with eggs and then witness the first flights, how much more exciting would it be this time around with a different perspective. A perspective of hope mixed with the reality that sometimes things don’t workout the way want them too. Because that is real life.

But when we give up hope that things can be better we give up on life.

I waited one week and journeyed back to Home Depot walking straight past the Fern Shamer Lady. I looked frantically around for ferns while avoiding eye contact with her. I found a different employee to ask, and he led me inside to a pillar of magical ferns. I swear I heard the hallelujah chorus and heaven opened up to shine a beam of sun on my ferns. I grabbed three and headed to a different register.

But she saw me. And can you believe she actually recognized me, judged me and shouted across the aisle, “Be careful! We may have another freeze!” The nerve! I paid for them and pretty much ran to the car never looking back. You’re not going to rain on my parade lady!! I’ve got spring in my heart, hope in my hands and birdies on my mind! I flung those ferns up on the hooks and even put out welcome home bird seed all over the front porch.

And in just TWO DAYS we had a nest!!  A beautiful, perfect, ready for babies nest. The kids and I were ecstatic. Great job Momma bird! It looks perfect. Welcome to the Clark house. We’ve been expecting you. Because no matter what happens in life our job is to hope and prepare and expect good things. So every day we check our nest, careful not to touch, and we smile with Spring in our hearts. Counting eggs and blessings.

My Unexpected Bookish Blessing

I wasn’t exactly looking for books when I came to The Farm. I heard about Vikki from a friend who told me that she found out about this woman who lives in Ball Ground, GA and encourages women to know that they are Loved, Worthy and Enough just as they are. The friend told me that Vikki had a unique and colorful backstory that included “Olympic bodybuilding” (which is not a thing), addiction and steroids. Well those subjects hit close to home for me- even Olympic weightlifting (which is a thing).

Long story short, I did know Vikki from years ago when we both lifted weights at Coffee’s Gym in Marietta. It had been 20 years and seemed like a past life with all of the changes we had both been through. (Thank the good Lord!) I was thrilled to hear about all the good things she was doing at her farm-Revival 356, and I wanted to go check it out myself. Here is me, Vikki and Lula-mae, the alpaca who likes kisses.

The beautiful red barn was even more beautiful on the inside. It was a chilly day, but there was a fire burning and the smell of incense and earth filled the air. Every inch of the barn invited you to slow down and be loved. There were mismatched chairs and repurposed farm décor, fresh cut flowers and the occasional stray chicken or bird. There was a wall of pictures, bins of scrap metal, leather, and wood. A crafty person’s dream. (They also hold art days and journal making classes at the barn monthly!) But what caught my eye was the books!

Shelves and boxes of books about love, spirituality, relationships and Jesus. My friends who know me know that this is TOTALLY my jam. (I’ve been reading Max Lucado since I was a pre-teen!) Vikki also loves to quote my BFF’s Brene Brown and Dr. Caroline Leaf AND she  “feeds her soul” through yoga and meditation. My friends who know me know that this is TOTALLY my NEW jam! We sat around these piles of books and swapped stories. She showed me around the farm and told me all about her mission to help others discover that they are Loved, Worthy and Enough.

I gotta say I’m not really an animal-lover, but I AM an animal-lover-lover. What I mean is, I dig people who are into animals and nature because they seem to be the kindest people around. I am more of a people lover, but still I enjoyed the peacefulness of farm-life, and these goats are pretty stinkin’ cute. I love how Vikki uses all that she is and how God made her to communicate love loudly-even sharing a beautiful metaphor about a “fence-climber” sheep based from Psalm 23. I was so drawn to the barn and to Vikki that I decided to visit regularly for some “life coaching”. I wasn’t sure what that looked like, but I believe in counseling and getting godly wisdom so I went for my first session and was blown away.

We didn’t even get through the first question on the list that she had me send in before our session. I’ve been to counseling before when I “needed it”, but this was different. I know I’m a work in progress but I like the direction I am headed.  I’m an achiever. A goal-setter. And thanks to Brene Brown and Liz Gilbert I’m not really afraid to put myself out there and risk failing. So, when I told Vikki that I was there to be a “better version of myself”, she said in her soft, sweet southern voice, “that sounds like a doing instead of being”, and BAM we talked for over an hour about THAT.

It’s not that those things are a bad thing, it’s just that life is in the present, the moments, the breaths that we take. I can work on the Better-Future-Bonnie, but if I’m not treating the In-This-Moment-Bonnie with compassion and really being present, I’m missing out. I get that. And I want that. Vikki loves to say that she doesn’t have the answers: “Take what resonates with you and sow it to your heart…And if something doesn’t resonate with you-throw that stuff out the window on your way out!” (She doesn’t say “stuff”.) I love that. I want to be so wise one day (when I grow up), that I don’t give people advice. Just love instead.

Life is such a journey of moments and I am learning to make space in my heart and mind to receive the gifts that come with each one. And every morning I will start all over again because His mercies are new. I am so grateful that He led me to peaceful green pastures- literally. At the Farm. I even stopped to smell these gorgeous daisies (and snap a picture), because daisies hold a special place in my heart, and I knew they were a gift… just for me.

At the end of our visit, Vikki recommended a book that was in her life-changing “top-ten”. I ordered it, because I know that books and conversations change lives. Do you have a favorite book that has made a positive impact in your life? I’d love for you to tell me. I’ll totally read it!

Until our next bookish adventure,

-Bonnie

World Poetry Day

THE WHISPER

I gave you a name.
A beautiful name to start you on your journey, but I know it is only temporary.
A whisper of your true name.

Life is filled with whisper, you just have to listen for it.
Birth is the first. Your welcome to the world.

Did you hear it?

A sunrise, a crashing wave, a perfect harmony. All whispers of who you truly are.
Listen for it when you are young, and learn to fill your life with moments of whisper.

How do you know when you’ve heard it? You will know.
Your heart fills with joy as you close your eyes to memorize the moment.

Listen. Right then, when you discovered what you were made for.
The head acknowledges the heart. A quiet whisper.

My greatest prayer is to help you hear your whisper, because I know when I do, I’ll hear mine too.

One day we will be given a new name. Our true name. Written on a white stone.
The name I gave you will pale in comparison to the beauty of the name that perfectly describes you.

Who else could sum up all that is you in one beautiful name?
The One who knows your heart.

Your true name will sound familiar and complete, and on that day your heart will be content.
As you rest in the fullness of being known.

Listening to the voice of your Beloved…no longer a whisper.

 

-Bonnie Clark

Interview with debut author Amberly Kristen Clowe

Hi Krissy!

Welcome to Bonnie Clark Books! I am so excited for your debut chapter book Teeny Sweeney and the Moustache Cash. I’ve already pre-ordered my copy and I can’t wait to read it with my kids! So…

Tell us a little about yourself!

“I live in Texas with my husband and two children. My husband and I work in the AWANA program at our church, and we also enjoy teaching a Sunday school class. I taught elementary school before staying home and then homeschooling my children. I have worked in the publishing industry for about ten years. I love, love, love writing the Teeny Sweeney series. My day is totally made when I can inspire a kid to laugh and also grow in his or her relationship with Christ.”

What does your writing process look like?

“With Teeny Sweeney, I brainstorm different story plots that have been floating around in my head for a while. For me, the zanier, the better. I then think about which plot would make sense for the next in the series. I know every author is different, but I’m a total outline-girl, so that comes next. After outlining, I’ll begin the manuscript. I like to write a chapter, re-read to make sure it works, and then continue until completed. Once done, I make a checklist of things that I felt could be stronger and to also ensure I have the needed elements, like enough scripture, interesting characters, and humor. Picture books are similar, but without the outline. The process for middle grade and young adult fiction is a bit longer. I will often even have a document for loose ends that need wrapping up. With all of the above, I like to also make a list of the characters and his or her attributes. I want to make sure that everyone is fleshed out and doing things that make sense for their characters. My writing process may be lengthy, but a polished product is totally worth it.”

Tell us more about your new children’s chapter book Teeny Sweeney and the Mustache Cash.

“I’m so excited to share this story with the world, you guys! It’s all about third-grader Teeny Sweeney. She’s spunky. She’s fun. And she’s figuring out life with God’s Word as her guide. Teeny is tasked by her teacher with creating a business idea, but in true Teeny fashion, she does so much more. Teeny has a tight-knit family, a special best friend, and of course, an arch-nemesis. Growing up, some of my favorite people were characters in stories. I really think Teeny Sweeney can be a favorite of your children or students or family members. And it completely thrills my heart to be part of a series that can help kids see the importance of scripture. God’s Word is the ultimate tool that can guide us all in this crazy life, and I’m beyond grateful for that.”

And lastly, Have you always wanted to be a writer?

“Hmmm. That’s an awesome question. As a kid, the thought never occurred to me. I just loved to read and write. This passion was pre-research papers and essays to prepare for the future. And it wasn’t until college and being exposed to children’ literature again, that I remembered my joy for the art. Now, ten years later, what would I do without my quiet time with the keyboard?”

Thank you so much for chatting with me today on World Book Day!! I can’t wait to read your books and get to know Teeny Sweeney myself.

-Bonnie

Bookstore Blog Tour Episode 4: Underground Books

Our latest Bookstore adventure was one we have been looking forward to for a while! After visiting Hills and Hamlets Books Shop in Serenbe, GA and hearing about their sister store Underground Books in Carollton, GA, my book buddy Steen Jones and I couldn’t wait to check out this quaint book shop with a very romantic story…just in time for Valentines!

Just as the name implies, you literally have to step down into the entrance to explore the bookish treasures in the Underground. We were met by a smiling employee, Miranda, who was excited and clearly to proud to show us around. They boast of Rare, Used and Anitiquarian which we got a taste of at Hills and Hamlets, but this is Underground’s specialty. They have a curated offering of popular titles in all genres, but they also have a highly satisfying quirky collection of used and vintage books that you didn’t even know you wanted.

You could tell every space and shelf was well thought out. I wanted to look at everything, but of course I was most interested in the children’s section. I walked through a tunnel of books into another area of the store and…bingo. Mixed between the fan favorites were adorable children’s classics and even fun oversized books like this  gem by the Queen Bee herself, Jane Yolen. I felt like a kid holding this huge book and watching the feet of passerbys outside the half window. The atmosphere was cozy and full of imagination and artistic flair.

Right smack in the middle of the store is the “signature piece” of the Underground, the famous Book Arch that was actually made for owners Megan Bell and Josh Niesse for their wedding! How romantic is that? I had to get a picture and file it away because suddenly I had book arch envy. Underground Books has a very unique personality in every corner and shelf. The glowing lamps and Edison bulbs mixed with the comfy chairs and even the music made you feel like you were in another bookish world.

Underground has another “signature” practice, and that is Megan’s “book face” photos that she frequently posts on social media. Forgive me Megan because you are way better at this than me, but here is my attempt…also known as Poe Face:

Miranda was quick to make sure we didn’t miss Megan’s favorite addition to the store, the Call Me Ishmael phone near the front desk. You could pick up the receiver of this vintage phone, dial a corresponding number for a displayed book, and someone on the other end would give you a review or recommendation of the book you are interested in. There are clever things like this throughout the store from buttons and journals made in-house as well as other fun gift ideas. There is definitely something for everyone

We could have definitely hung out all afternoon with Miranda, but we were hungry, so she recommended the Charleston-esque Brown Dog Restaurant just around the corner of the historic downtown square. Super good food and super fast service. We didn’t realize until we noticed the decor inside that we were visiting on Fat Tuesday so that was a bonus. If you are ever in Carollton enjoying the fun and unique shops downtown, you have to stop by Underground Books and say Hi to Megan and the gang. You’ll find all manner of comforts and curiosities in a book lovers heaven.